recap game 2

Although the performance was more forceful, more inspired and more assertive all around, the result of Tuesday's Game 2 of the Caps’ first-round series with the New York Rangers was the same; the Blueshirts prevailed 4-3, sending the Caps back to the District in an 0-2 series hole for Friday’s Game 3 at Capital One Arena.

Each team struck for a pair of power-play goals, but New York’s K’Andre Miller scored a shorthanded goal late in the second period, a goal that ultimately provided the difference in the contest.

“Overall, much better than the first game,” says Caps’ coach Spencer Carbery of his team’s performance. “We did a ton of really, really good things, so that’s the positive. Offensively, way better, speed through the neutral zone, way better. [Offensive] zone time, sustained pressure, some different looks off of that. Some sequences where we’re able to get some [offensive] zone changes, all exponentially better.

“Now, to the mistakes, we make four or five of them that you just can’t make at this time of the year. And it’s tough because guys are trying, and they want to do the right thing.”

Washington came out with more verve and more jump from the outset, and that early spark resulted in the game’s first goal at 5:09 of the first. From the red line, Dylan McIlrath fired the puck into the New York end. It went all the way around the back of the Rangers’ net, then caromed to the front, where T.J. Oshie lost the handle, but Connor McMichael quickly collected it and fired it home from the slot for a 1-0 Washington lead.

The Caps’ scoreboard advantage lasted less than three minutes; New York pulled even off a face-off that followed an icing call against Washington. Six seconds after the ensuing draw in the Caps’ end, Rangers’ defenseman Erik Gustafsson issued a feed to a wide-open Vincent Trocheck, stationed just off the right post. Trocheck neatly redirected it to the shelf, squaring the score at 1-1 at 7:56 of the first.

For the second time in as many games there were a pair of power plays on each side in the first, though the Caps’ second one was an abbreviated affair that was preceded by a lengthier stretch of 4-on-4 hockey. And while the Caps were able to keep the Rangers at bay on special teams in Game 1, that would not be the case in Tuesday’s Game 2.

With New York on the power play, a group of players from both sides battled for the puck along the left half wall. Trocheck came away with it, spotted Mika Zibanejad lurking on the weak side and quickly fed him. From the right dot, Zibanejad fired a shot that clicked off Caps’ defender Alex Alexeyev and over Charlie Lindgren’s outstretched glove, putting the home team up 2-1 at 14:28 of the first.

The Caps again came out like gangbusters in the second period, and when Lucas Johansen drew a roughing call on New York’s Matt Rempe, they cashed in to draw even on the man advantage. Washington’s power play struggled in the series opener, but the extra-man unit came through with a clean entry and a goal off the rush. Max Pacioretty sent Tom Wilson into the zone down the right wing wall, and from there, Wilson sent a centering feed toward the slot, where both Pacioretty and Dylan Strome were driving the net. Strome redirected it home to make it a 2-2 tilt at 3:44.

But the Caps got in their own way a couple of times later in the second, and it cost them. Twenty seconds after the Strome goal, Washington was back on the penalty kill, and it needed a big stop from Lindgren to keep Chris Kreider from restoring the New York lead.

Alas, it was just a matter of time. Following another icing on the Caps midway through the frame, they got hemmed in their end a bit, eventually leading to another New York power play when John Carlson cross-checked Trocheck. With their top penalty killing defenseman in the box, the Caps came within six seconds of completing the kill before Jack Roslovic put a shot under the bar from the right circle at 12:28, giving the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish.

When Gustafsson threw as puck over the window with 4:20 left in the second, the Caps had another power play opportunity, and a chance to draw even before intermission. But when Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin bobbled a pass at the Washington line, Zibanejad stripped him of the puck. Two passes later, Miller beat Lindgren from the slot, making it a 4-2 game with 3:08 left in the middle frame.

Carbery made note of the two icings that led to New York goals tonight; the Caps simply don’t have the margin for error to be making such mistakes at this time of the season. Those two goals were the difference in the game going into the third.

Again in the third, the Caps were driving play and vying to claw their way back into the contest when Artemi Panarin put a high hit on Oshie. As Oshie was aided to his feet and the concussion spotters directed him off the ice and to the Washington room, officials announced in house that they were reviewing the play for a hit to the head. Seconds later, they announced their verdict: no penalty to Panarin on the play, but McMichael would be boxed for roughing for coming to the aid of his teammate.

“They said it wasn’t a minor penalty was the only explanation I got,” says Carbery of the review of Panarin’s hit on Oshie. “I asked a few follow-up questions, with regards to leaving feet, point of contact, and the one that is tricky is the spotter removes him.

“We watch a video at the beginning of the year of what [the spotters] are looking for from concussion symptoms, or a hit, and who needs to be removed. To me, when the spotters remove him, there has to be some type of contact with the head. So that’s where I was a little bit confused of him being removed by the spotters, and then no minor penalty on the ice.”

Fortunately for the Caps, New York’s power play was shortened by a too many men on the ice call, and Washington struck for its second power-play tally of the night at 11:45 when Wilson deflected Hendrix Lapierre’s shot past Rangers’ netminder Igor Shesterkin, snapping his streak of consecutive home playoff games with two or fewer goals against at 10.

After missing more than eight minutes of action, Oshie was cleared to return. The Caps pulled Lindgren for an extra attacker with 2:48 remaining, and though they generated a great deal of offensive zone time during that span, they weren’t able to find the equalizer. Their lone shot on net at 6-on-5 was an Oshie tip try from in tight in the final minute.

The Caps made a few too many mistakes to beat a team like the Rangers on Tuesday night, but they hung in gamely for 60 minutes, playing quite well at 5-on-5. That gives them confidence that they can make it a series when the scene shifts to Washington on Friday.

“Absolutely, yeah,” says Lindgren. “We know we’ve got to play 5-on-5; we’ve got to stay out of the box, we’ve got to be disciplined, we can’t take unnecessary penalties. If we play 5-on-5, we feel pretty good about our game.”

Down but not out, the Caps will take Wednesday off before reconvening for a Thursday practice session in preparation for Friday’s Game 3 in Washington.

“I think that’s a pretty good hockey game,” says Wilson. “Both teams were battling, it was physical, fast playoff hockey. We hung in there, just again a couple moments there where they get a couple goals, and then it’s tough to battle back in this League.

“We’ve got to find a way to get a lead and play with the lead a little bit longer. But we’re excited to get home and try and turn the momentum.”